What a Carry On! Part 1
Cast: Mike – 44, 8th trip.
DW Amanda – 36, 2nd trip.
Bob & Pat (70-odd), my parents. 3rd visit (last one 5 years ago)
DD Bethany – nearly 16
DS Adam 14.5 – both on their 6th trip to WDW.
Caveat: My trippies tend to be somewhat lengthy: this occasionally irritates me as much as it may annoy you (after all, I have to type the things!), but Sun readers can always flick through and just look at the pretty pictures. As my primary reason for writing them is to relive the holiday, I prefer more detail rather than less. I hope, however, that like-minded folk will also enjoy them. If you don’t, then feel free to stop after the first session, but if you do, cash or cheques payable to M Jones are gratefully received! (Or just post a reply – the feedback is very welcome!)
Day 1 – Sunday 17th August 2008
Amazingly, as I rarely sleep well the night before a flight to Florida, I am awakened at 4.00am by my alarm! The power of alcohol! Amanda and I shower (noisily accompanied by James Blunt, although I keep telling him to get his own house!) before the kids hog the bathroom for the next hour or so – Beth is groggily propelled bathwards at 4.30, as she needs additional GHD time. Adam is woken at 5.00.
After a coffee and a quick check of the boards (and the Florida weather, given the seemingly inevitable arrival of Tropical Storm Fay!) I run down the mile or so to my parents’ house at 6.00am, bringing them back here for the cab we’ve arranged for 6.15. Amazingly, this arrives on time, and we crush happily into the 6 seats with our minimalist luggage. (One piece of luggage each, sized to comply with USAirways limits and Manchester Airports slightly different dimensions, plus one ‘personal item’ In practice, this means a week’s clothing each in a small wheeled case, plus a small daypack or handbag per traveller.)
The journey to Manchester Airport Terminal 2 is smooth and event free, although for some reason best known to himself, our driver hogs the outside lane for the whole journey, even though the roads are virtually empty.
It’s shortly before 7.00am as we enter the building, approximately 4 hours before our flight time and a full hour before the desks are supposed to open. Now, this may puzzle some of you, but my dad hates to be late for anything and suffers major anxiety if he thinks he could be: and I’m just like him! Accordingly, the rest of our sleep-deprived families have to suffer the earlier starts.
As it turns out, the US Airways desk opens at 7.25, and we are the first in line. My dad and I grin inanely at each other in triumph! The check-in process is straightforward, with a pleasant chap attending us, and we are given the seats we reserved on line for both legs of the journey. (Other travellers have reported on the boards that this is not always the case.)
At this relatively early hour there are no lines (hey, see that? Mike slips back into the vernacular like a true pro!) at security, (newly re-vamped and extended upstairs, to cope with the more detailed checks since the London bombings) and even though my dad is selected for a random body search (pretty well guaranteed, as he didn’t set the metal detector off this trip – he generally does, due to some steel wire holding his ribcage together after a heart op many years back!) we are through to the lounge by 7.50. Just the three hours to go then!
And, constant reader, what d’ya suppose we do next? Hmm? Any ideas? No? Well, just for a change, we decide to have a coffee at…. Starbucks!
This, for me, is the true start of a foreign holiday. I can never truly relax until I’m the right side of the security barriers with a cup of java in hand. Up to this point, there are all sorts of potential problems that could be my fault or responsibility: car break down, traffic jam, forgotten passport etc.. but once you are sat with the green lady, it’s all someone else’s problem! (And, unlike those perennial and amazingly common morons that check in and then get lost in the Duty Free, failing to look at their watches or check the departures boards, we keep a close eye on the progress of our plane! What else are you there for? How on earth can you forget where you should be at the appropriate time?!! Right, that’s enough, I’ll calm down again! Breathe in.. breathe out…)
We sit on the far side of Starbucks, at Gate 213 to drink our coffees and fill in the Visa Waiver forms. I do this meticulously, taking over half an hour of valuable Waterstone browsing time – and cock it all up. I’ve put the wrong pigging flight number on all six of them. Poo. I try to obtain more but no one seems to have any, although I am assured that the crew will have plenty on the flight.
T2 is looking very shabby these days (and I can recall saying this 7 years ago on our first WDW jaunt!) but we notice large placards announcing the imminent commencement of upgrade works. We’ll see!
The family take it in turns to wander the shops and variously guard our bags. Amanda and I do the required trawl through Duty Free and the adjacent accessory shops, and I manage to distract her from the multiple sunglasses temptations along the way. (I figure 7 existing pairs are enough for anyone!) Mum buys Bethany a cheese sandwich for the flight, as she generally doesn’t like the options on board.
At 9.15 we feed Adam a travel sickness pill as a precaution: over the years he has caused significant trauma and entertainment with his ad hoc impressions of the girl from The Exorcist on a variety of trans-Atlantic fights. (Mind you, it did get us processed very quickly in the Dollar Car Hire office at Sanford once, so there were some compensations!) We think it likely that he’s grown out of it now, but we’ll see.
By happy coincidence, ‘our’ plane arrives effectively next door at Gate 212 at 9.45.
To pass a little time my dad and I have a play on the £1 massage chairs – I’ve never been tempted before, as I come from the North West like Craig W, and we watch our pennies carefully up here, but as my dad has paid for the bulk of the holiday, it only seems fair to treat him.
Hey! Guess what? They’re really good! A proper massage action, up and down the spine, and you know it’s the real deal, because it hurts!
Right, time for the off. I nip at everyone’s heels until they’ve all been shepherded to the toilets for a last wee, and we adjourn to the gate area. As there’s no where to sit, we lurk casually by the actual gate itself, drawing disapproving looks from the folk who’ve been camped out here for an hour.
The boarding process is done by ‘zones’, and naturally enough, (after the wrinklies and special needs are boarded) they start with First Class (zone 1) and then work their way down (or is it up?). Upon checking, we seem to be in Zones 2, 3, 4 & 5 between us, so we gather behind our two 2’s (me and mum) and muscle through en masse.
We are aboard by 10.20. I selected three rows of two online (30, 31 and 32, all A & B) on the left side, near the back of the cabin so that we could have some control over recliners in and around the family. The usual nesting rituals take place as we each set out our stalls for the next 8 hours or so. (In fact the co-pilot advises that our flight time to Philadelphia will be 7 hours and 23 minutes… or thereabouts.)
To pass the time while the rest of the passengers board, we browse the wonderful SkyMall catalogue. This is a truly awe-inspiring journal, full of incredible and mind-boggling consumables that you never knew you needed. This years favourites? (linked, as some of them are available online too!):
…The Indoor Doggie Restroom (just think about that 2 gallon capacity!)
… the personalised, barbeque branding irons..
…and the ‘Litter Box Disguised as a Pot Plant’, suitable for any room in the house!
Everyone finally settles down and we carefully survey our neighbours for the journey. Not too bad a bunch, and the nervous glances some of them give my tattoos suggests that they will all behave during the flight.
Pushback at 10.58 (I did promise detail if you recall) and we take off at 11.10, into broken cloud. We soon settle into a smooth flight. I beg Visa Waiver forms off the stewardess and spend a careful hour making sure they are correctly completed this time!
The rest of the family utilise the seatback entertainment systems or read.
Although these USAirways planes are a bit tatty around the edges now, there is decent legroom (at 6’3” I’m not too badly served) and the cabin crew are very pleasant: I have found that the more mature, American crews are generally preferable to some of our UK equivalents… much the same as restaurant and shop staff then!
A woman next to us spots me filling in the forms and admits to messing hers up too, so I don’t feel quite as much of a numpty anymore!
You will have noticed in recent times that all airlines are responding to the pressures of higher fuel charges by imposing additional costs on customers for items that used to be free (you know, hold baggage, meals, restroom visits, seats etc). I half hear an announcement about lunch, and become convinced that it is chargeable, there being a reference in the USAirways inflight magazine about $7 lunch packs. It turns out that, in order to make me feel stupid again, they decide not to charge on this occasion. (Amanda’s comment: they don’t charge on ANY trans-Atlantic flights! He can’t admit when he’s wrong, that’s all!)
A round of beverages precedes lunch: cranberry and apple (or ‘cranapple’ according to our stewardess) pour moi, water for Amanda. Lunch was either ‘chicken’ or ‘pasta’. Four of us had the chicken, which was slightly spicy, and served with rice, side salad and a small dessert. Very pleasant, for airline food. Adam had the ravioli, which he enjoyed, and veggie Bethany ate the sandwich we bought her at the airport.
It’s 12.50pm as they clear away, and now, dear reader, I think we should start thinking Florida time. I reset my watch to 7.50am.
Coffee and a read next for me. I don’t really care for watching films and programmes on flights. I never seem able to concentrate properly on the small screen, with varied distractions and interruptions from crew and family, so I have ‘saved’ a book especially for the flight (“The Gods of War”, the fourth and final book in the “Emperor” series about Julius Caesar by Conn Iggulden… an excellent read, by the way.) I find myself nodding a little, and actually manage to nap for an hour or so, which is very unusual for me. The rest of the mob seem to take a nap more easily:
9.15am, approximately 4½ hours to go. We’re in ‘the zone’ now, that changeless period in the middle of a long flight when nothing dramatic happens: we fill the next couple of hours with toilet breaks, reading and (Amanda this time) a bit of a snooze. As far as I can tell, the rest of the family are comfortable enough, as we peek at each other between the seat backs now and again.
The crew serve another round of beverages at 11.00. We both enjoy a wee drop of Glenlivet (a jaw dropping four quid each!) At 12.30 we pop Adam another of his pills (all well so far, but he’s supposed to top up every 8 hours). There’s a Philadelphia Airport Arrival video on the seatback system: upon watching this it looks as though we’ll need to go through security again.
At 12.45 we are offered an ‘arrivals snack’ – a hot, turkey and (the now inevitable) cheese sub roll (why does everything get cheesed to death in the US?). It’s quite palatable. I do my sheep dog thing again, and march the wrinklies and the kids to the loo in anticipation of landing, to save precious time between flights, should the second security process turn out to be long-winded.
At 1.10 we are obviously descending steadily, and flight deck advises us that we should be on the ground at Philadelphia around 1.30.
As we actually touch down at 1.33pm, I knock off a couple of points for this inaccuracy. After a modest taxi and then a short (but seemingly interminable) wait for the rest of the passengers to exit, we walk into the terminal at 1.50pm. The immigration hall is vast, and virtually empty! We wait only a brief time before being processed by a young and friendly official who chats to each of us and welcomes us to the US of A.
Taking our carry on (you get the title now, eh?) bags in tow, we march smugly through the baggage reclaim area, out of Terminal B, and, passing easily through security once more, into Terminal C next door (although it’s still a fair hike – but not as bad as one Christmas here, 5 years ago, when we had to get across the entire airport with less than 30 minutes to catch our connecting flight!)
We find the lounge area at C20, and proceed to lounge. The TV screens are showing depressing forecasts of Tropical Storm Fay, due to hit the Orlando area between Monday and Tuesday, with the potential to become a full fledged hurricane. Great.
It’s 2.35. I walk back to the nearby hub where I buy coffees for the adults and juices for the kids. My ‘drip coffee with a shot of espresso’ (called either a ‘Red Eye’ in Orlando, or sometimes a ‘Depth Charge’) is apparently a ‘Night Train’ here.
We pass the time reading and going to the toilet. Well, I do. The rest of them are getting fed up with me trying to keep their bladders completely empty, and tell me to naff off. Amazingly, someone my mum used to work with, 20 years ago, recognises her and comes over to chat. She looks vaguely familiar to me, too. They natter for an age, and, after the lady has retreated to the bosom of her own family, I ask mum what she’s called. “I don’t remember” admits mum, but she was too embarrassed to ask her erstwhile colleague what her name was!
Our plane is outside, and as we are due to leave at 3.50, we expect boarding to kick off around 3.20. Instead we get an announcement that our bird is broken. Wonderful. They go on to say that this may mean a new plane being delivered here – or a gate change. Great!
At 3.40 we are told to pop over to C26 to await a new plane. This arrives at 4.15, but as there is no imminent sign of boarding (in fact, it’s a good 10 minutes later before passengers actually start to disembark from the craft!) we grab some pizza slices from a concession nearby. Some sort of optical illusion must be taking place, as each of them is the size of full UK pizza when we actually get them in hand! They are lovely, though, and the equivalent of £2 each!
It’s over warm in the lounge here, so we stand in the walkway at its entrance, which also allows us to keep an eye on the activities (or lack) of the USAirways staff manning the gate. There seems to be a lot of muttering and to’ing and fro’ing going on, and, when challenged, they admit that the replacement plane ‘may’ have an instrument fault, but until they get it checked, they won’t know whether it’s something the pilots can fly with or not. The grand or so we saved by flying indirect is starting to look a bit pointless now, particularly when we hear them discussing the lack of alternative flights later today.
I’ve convinced myself that we won’t get to Orlando today, when at 5.15 the sweating and increasingly harassed gate official announces to ragged cheers that ‘we have a good plane’ and boarding will commence imminently. There’s a rumour that this aircraft may actually be smaller than the original one (rubbish, as it transpires) so the passengers collectively decide that they are all in Zone 1 and mob the gate en masse! My bunch responds instinctively to the earlier training as I snap and snarl at their heels, propelling them down the boarding ramp ahead of most of the pensioners, baby-afflicted and wheelchair bound. (Only kidding, we let the chair-users go on first!)
Whether there are enough seats or not (there are) we bagsy rows 18 and 19, D, E & F, (our craft is a 737-400) and wave our boarding passes menacingly at anyone who looks even vaguely like they may dispute our occupancy rights. I don’t even need to flash the tattoos, as my mum is now tired and hot, and trust me, it would take a very brave or foolish person indeed to try and move her (and thus us) at this juncture!
This leg of the flight looks like being a bit rowdy, due mainly to the presence of a teenage baseball team making their way home. We stand on the ground until 6.00pm, waiting for flight clearance (our original slot being now just a distant memory) and are eventually airborne at 6.18, or 2½ hours late.
There are no seatback systems here, just blanking plates where they took out some in-flight telephones I remember from a few years ago. The kids listen to iPods and the grown-ups doze or read. We try to plan for the pre-villa shopping expedition we need to do, given our later than expected arrival time. Plan A had been to visit a Publix just off the 192 west of Formosa Gardens (our access to Sunset Lakes, where we are staying), but they shut at 10.00pm and I fear that we may miss them. Plan B was to shop at the Winn Dixie ‘Market Place’ at Formosa Gardens (you know, the one that has a puzzling, oriental theme, due to its proximity to the now defunct Splendid China theme park – who looks daft now, eh?) where there is less choice, but I don’t know what time they open to. The eventual fix is to head off our direct route and go to a Publix further east of our destination, close to the 535 route into WDW, as I know this one closes at 11.00pm.
This flight only takes a touch over 2 hours, and we land into darkening skies (cloudy, darkening skies, actually - it’s been raining heavily by the look of things) at 8.25pm. The captain informs us that the temperature is a balmy 80 degrees F! Whoo-hoo!
Given that we are now exiting from an internal flight, with little or no administration, we approach the Alamo line a mere 20 minutes later. The entire rental area is quiet at this time of day, and there are only a couple of parties ahead of us.
It’s difficult to offer upgrades on an 8-seater minivan,(whaddya do? Try and get the customer to take an even bigger bus?) although they make a feeble attempt at hiring us a $100 sat nav for $150. Like that’s gonna happen! I’ve got a map, thanks! We complete the paperwork and head across the road (first time in the open air, and it’s warm!!) to the garage. We are waved vaguely towards the far side of the Alamo area, instructed to help ourselves to any of the ‘8 seaters’. These turn out to be Toyota Siennas in a variety of uninspiring tones. White seems to be the least offensive option, but the first one we inspect has had its seats mucked about, and rather than try to re-orient them for our group, we pick the adjacent one in a lovely shade of dull beige.
It seems fit for purpose – an 8 person people carrier rather than a true van, so not dissimilar to a Chrysler Grand Voyager or Ford Galaxy, with two rows of three seats behind the driver and co-pilot. Controls are familiar and obvious, so off we toddle.
It’s dark, so I drive carefully out of the south exit and head along the 417 toll road to the 535 junction. We arrive at the Publix store around 9.40.
Time for a ‘big shop’ then! Essential items (beer, wine, straightening spray) are complimented with luxuries such as toothpaste, sun cream, food etc. We stagger out with our bounty 30 minutes later and $260 poorer (straightening spray can be sooo expensive!)
The journey to the villa at sunset Lakes only takes 10 or 15 minutes from here. It’s close to Indian Creek, where we’ve stayed before, and the owners’ directions are excellent. We arrive around 10.30.
First impressions are very favourable – this is a two-storey house rather than the more prevalent bungalows that we’ve rented before, and there are 6 bedrooms and a couple of dozen bathrooms (well, 3, at least!). We spread out, Amanda and I taking the enormous Master Suite upstairs. After unpacking our minimalist clothing stocks (and, glory be, there are LOADS of hangers in this property!) and turning on all the switches etc, we sit out on the Lanai with a beer or three. There’s a very large lobster in the pool, and we even have an outside TV!
We chat and chill for an hour or so,
…finally making it to bed at 1.00am… or 26 hours after we rose this (yesterday) morning!
Mike, Amanda & co.
Tomorrow: Mike’s off home to Epcot!